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OPP head defends comments that ‘Freedom Convoy’ was national security threat

Contradictory testimony said no credible information showed a direct threat to national security
Police hang off a truck as authorities work to end a protest against COVID-19 measures that had grown into a broader anti-government demonstration and occupation lasting for weeks, in Ottawa, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. The head of Ontario Provincial Police is defending comments he made about the “Freedom Convoy” posing a threat to national security. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

The head of the Ontario Provincial Police is defending comments he made about the “Freedom Convoy” posing a threat to Canada’s national security.

Thomas Carrique told members of Parliament in March that his intelligence unit identified protests in Ottawa as a “threat to national security” about a week after heavy trucks arrived in the capital city.

But the head of intelligence for the force, Supt. Pat Morris, contradicted that this week.

In testimony before the public inquiry looking into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act, Morris said there was never any credible information showing a direct threat to national security.

On Monday, members of Parliament on the public safety committee voted unanimously to seek a response from the Ontario Provincial Police, and Carrique, about those conflicting statements.

Carrique testified at the public inquiry Thursday, where he clarified that he agrees there were no credible national security threats. He said the word “threat” was used to indicate that something could potentially happen, and that the situation called for further analysis.

“This is talking from a strategic level: What are the risks that need to be taken into consideration when making decisions and developing plans?” he said.

“The word ‘potential’ is almost immaterial. It’s like saying that there’s a threat of rain today. Does it change the situation when you say there’s a potential threat of rain today? I would suggest to you it does not. What is required is further analysis of that threat.”

He also stood by Morris, saying he is the foremost expert on the subject in Ontario.

Canada’s spy agency raised concerns over the OPP’s suggestion there was a national security threat, but Carrique says any police leader ought to look at potential threats extremely seriously.

Intelligence reports prepared by the OPP and released by the inquiry last week said convoy organizers and participants would be “unlikely to have the ability to control, influence or discipline” the “fringe elements” that it expected could pose the biggest threat to public safety.

The reports also noted on several occasions that while the OPP had “identified no concrete, specific, or credible threat with regard to the Freedom Convoy protest” or related events, “a lone actor or group of individuals could enact a threat with little or no warning.”

On Feb. 8, the OPP assessment said “foreign ideological and financial support” for the protests was helping to harden the resolve’ of those taking part. The intelligence report said, “the ongoing series of protests and blockades represents a potential threat to Canada’s sovereignty and national security.”

The Public Order Emergency Commission is set to hear evidence from CSIS, although it is unclear whether the public will learn what they have to say.

Late Wednesday, Commissioner Paul Rouleau ruled that the federal government could present both evidence and witnesses from CSIS and the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre behind closed doors for national security reasons.

In his ruling, Rouleau also said that after he has heard the evidence, he will decide whether some or all of it should remain confidential.

—David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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